Another week, another update about the U.S. Postal Service. The House yesterday passed a bill that would halt changes in operations that contributed to mail delays, and send billions to the USPS to prepare for mailing ballots around the country in November.
And, this week, we chatted with reporter Brandon T. Harden, who covers culture and art in Philly’s marginalized communities.
Each week we go behind the scenes with one of our reporters or editors to discuss their work and the challenges they face along the way. This week we chat with reporter Brandon T. Harden, who covers the arts and culture scene in Philadelphia’s marginalized communities, about his work and process.
You’ve talked to a lot of interesting people, from celebrities to fashion artists. How do you find your stories?
I basically live on Twitter. I’ve found really great stories that started with a single tweet. I try to stay as observant as I can when I’m walking around the city. If I think it’s interesting, it’s likely that someone else does, too. I also get tips from our readers and folks in my community.
Is there anybody you’ve talked to that you’ve been a genuine fan of? If so, how do you keep your cool? If not, who is a person you’d like to talk to?
Yes, I’ve interviewed many people that I admire. Knowing the contours of their craft helps me in asking really insightful questions and also helps me to be more direct about things I don’t understand. I keep my cool by remembering that the key is to give other people the mic. The story isn’t about me, it’s about them, so there’s nothing to really be anxious about.
What is one of the most interesting things you’ve written about over your career?
Last year, I wrote about a North Philly jazz bar, New Barber’s Hall. The bar is right near Temple’s campus and has seen performances from the likes of Patti LaBelle, John Coltrane, and The Temptations. Two years ago, the owner refused a $3.2M offer from developers, saying his bar was one of the few places in the area for Black folks of a particular age. In 1952, a group of Black barbers bought the property and created a social club so that they could have a place for fellowship as a remedy to racial segregation.
Is there a recent story that you found compelling, but maybe was drowned out by other important news? What’s skated under the radar?
A story I wrote earlier this year about five of Philadelphia’s Black, most-storied leaders reflecting on the beginnings of their towering careers didn’t get the attention it deserved. It’s very inspiring to read about the odds they overcame. It’s often hard to see the through line of your career when you’re not as seasoned. It’s hard finding a sense of direction, but these five Philadelphians really moved mountains for this city, one day at a time, one job at a time. It’s an important read for everyone, but especially for young Black people and especially now.
Why did you become a journalist? What is one thing you wish more people better understood about your work?
I became a journalist because I’m a good listener and I’m inquisitive. I think people can sometimes trivialize Black culture. For instance, there are essays upon essays about the trench coat, the little black dress, the necktie, etc., by respected institutions. But the same diligence isn’t always applied to acrylic nails, tall Tees, Air Force Ones. When I’m writing about Black creativity, I’m doing so to add depth, light, and context. Black people have always been at the forefront of what’s considered cool, but if you only studied the contents of American journalism, you wouldn’t know it. I seek to change that in my work.
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